Let me first preface this review by saying that I am not a model, have never been a model, and have no intentions of ever being a model. (I mean really. At 5'2" I don't stand a chance) What I am, is someone with a vested interest in fashion and the fashion industry, especially locally, and an avid, nay obsessive viewer of ANTM. I even watched the British Invasion season. It's that serious. So I do feel qualified to comment on this latest iteration of the ANTM franchise, and frankly, there's quite a lot to discuss.
Here are the basics: the show (or rather, this episode) was shot on location in Trinidad and Tobago, and it appears that the audition rounds were held in the Carlton Savannah Hotel in St. Anns, Port-of-Spain. The initial 23 models came from across the Caribbean region, and 12 were cut by the end of the night. Simple enough.
One thing that struck me as odd about the premiere is that at no point was any mention made of the prizes. I understand that this episode essentially served as the casting special, but how are we to know how dedicated these girls are if we don't even know what they're fighting for? What is their goal, past winning this competition? How will they cry to the cameras about who "deserves to be here" if they don't know where "here" is? This also strikes me as odd because if you've ever seen an episode of ANTM, you know that Tyra shills the shit out of those prizes. The prize package is mentioned in its entirety at least three times an episode, and by the end of the season you can recite it back to the TV screen verbatim. Perhaps the prizes will be announced next week?
Editor's Note: It was brought to my attention in the comments that the prizes were in fact mentioned: "There is something from bmobile and a spread in Caribbean Belle. There is one other thing but I can't recall." I think the fact that this completely slipped by me means that my point still stands. Or perhaps I need to pay better attention!
Prizes aside, my biggest issue with the show so far is easily the production value. Sets look cheap, video is shaky and sound is muffled. It is not the optimum viewing experience to say the least. But it is entirely possible that this will improve as the season progresses, so it would be unproductive to harp too much on that now.
This season's sitting judges are former Ms. Universe, Wendy Fitzwilliam, who doubles as the host, FWTT Creative Director Richard Young and Australian celebrity photographer Pedro Virgil. They seem to all get along quite well, which, unfortunately, doesn't make great television.
This crop of girls has a lot of work to do. There were some interesting characters last night; an African dancer, a girl who tripped trying to impress some boys, a girl with several (large and highly visible) tattoos and several children... it was a circus. But the sad fact is, there were no real standouts. I couldn't even begin to tell you who was who, and there was no one who was even remotely memorable for anything approaching their modelling ability.
I'm reminded of something that Tyra said in Cycle 13: There's a difference between "model" the noun, and "model" the verb. Nouns are the models who look good on paper: Great face, great body, great look. They are the ones who you see on the street and think "she could be in a magazine". Verbs however, are the girls who may not have the conventional look (though many do) but understand how to model. They know their faces and their bodies. They understand their angles and how to find their best light. They know how to pose. Needless to say, there were few if any verbs in the bunch, and far too many nouns. We'll have to keep an eye on that.
But let's not forget that this is entertainment first and a competition second.
The models' first task was to create a t-shirt design with accompanying slogan in support of HIV prevention, geared specifically towards combating the stigma that still faces those who are infected. Naturally it was team challenge, and their designs were presented to judge Pedro Virgil. There was some shade thrown, and some dirty looks, but all in all, it was pretty uneventful. The girls then each did an individual shoot with Pedro and we got a little preview of the level of their posing skills. It was... not good.
It's not even that they were all disasterous. They weren't. It was just all very Model 101 as Tyra would say. It screamed of Look Ma! I'm a model!
¡Qué terrible! Ms. Banks would have had none of it. And then came the interview segment. Five guesses how that went.
Tears, tears and more tears. Gotta play to that camera hunty! Did they get your good side? There were at least two breakdowns that I can remember, and one was about starving children in Africa. I wish I were kidding but I'm serious. But the more relevant part of that segment was the runway walks. Strangely enough there were quite a few strong walkers, and in a competition full of Nouns, that alone inched them closer to Verb territory. Ataliah Samuel particularly stood out as a great walker, but as the current Ms. Trinidad and Tobago World, I expected nothing less. My only other favorite so far (and honestly, one of the only names I can remember) was Semoy De Four. There was something about her that struck me, and I suspect she may pull ahead as the weeks fly by.
In the end, 11 remained: Ashley Anselm, Athaliah Samuel, Kendra Beneby, Rachel John, Sedia Jackman, Semoy De Four, Sheriza Ali, Stephany Francisca, Susan Chin, Treveen Stewart and Trudy-Lee Collins.
If I'm being completely honest, the most refreshing thing about last night's episode was the discovery that Wendy looks as graceful and flawless as she did on the day she snatched that crown from Veruska Ramírez. Honestly, the woman is a vision. But after that, the general consensus is that there's still a long way to go. It looks as though next week is runway bootcamp, and I wait, gleeful, to see who will come out on top. But I have been in the presence of Richard Young and he knows what he's doing. If anyone can straighten these girls out it's him. Two or three stars are bound to emerge. I have faith.
It was also really refreshing (if not even remotely surprising, since after all, this is the Caribbean) to see so many darker faces in the running. The ethnic balance of ANTM has always been a little skewed, and it was fun to see so many women who might not otherwise have had access to such an opportunity, try their very hardest to show why they deserve that international push. I was disappointed to see that no "fiercely real" girls seem to have been considered, but I guess you can't have everything all at once.
All in all, the show gets an A for effort. It will be interesting to see how the American reality television format is adapted for Caribbean audiences as the weeks go by, but so far, there is nothing I've seen that can't be fixed by a shrewd eye and a good production team. As someone mentioned on twitter last night, the first season of ANTM was a complete mess too, and look how far that's come. CNTM is still in its fledgling season, and this was only the first episode. It has to be considered that these girls are of a different ilk than the girls on ANTM and they are "performing" essentially for a vastly different audience. If I have one hope for CNTM it's that it actually produces a working, international model on the same level as Michelene Auguste, and honestly, I think it's possible.
And now for your brilliance! Did you catch the premier of Caribbean's Next Top Model? What were your thoughts? Who are you rooting for so far? Will you be watching next week?